You might have gotten a shiny new console this year as a gift, but it’s not much use without some quality games. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft spend millions a year developing exclusives to make their systems worth it—these are the best they’ve come up with.
While the handheld Switch is unique compared to the other consoles, the first-party support is always the biggest draw to Nintendo’s consoles. Iconic series like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Smash Bros. have kept this company at the forefront of gaming thanks to their incredible gameplay and worlds. Because of this, you’ll see a lot of the same series on the Switch as Nintendo’s previous systems, but these latest entries are some of the best games Nintendo has ever released.
- Super Mario Odyssey: The 3D Mario series has pushed the line again and again with what you can do with 3D platformers, and Odyssey did that once more on the Switch. Armed with the power to possess enemies and featuring imaginative kingdoms, Odyssey is all about freedom and exploration. While there are objectives you need to complete, the order in which you do so is completely up to you on this globe-trotting adventure.
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate: The Smash series has lived on thanks to its unique and simplistic take on fighting games. The controls are streamlined to be easy to learn for casual play while keeping a lot of depth if you want to get good. On top of that, the roster is made up of some of the most iconic characters in gaming, so there’s plenty of fan service here as well. Whether you’re a fan of Zelda, Pac-Man, or even Final Fantasy, there’s a character here for you.
- The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: While Breath of the Wild was the Switch’s first game, it’s still one of its best. This entry in the Zelda franchise completely reinvented things with a bold take on open-world games that other studios are still catching up with. The world is alive and beautiful, allowing you to go anywhere and do plenty of things regardless of their relation to the main quest.
- Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury: Couch co-op has always been one of Nintendo’s strong suits, and this game brings that to the traditional 3D Mario affair. 3D World may have less difficult levels than other Mario games, but the design is still incredibly solid and allows for up to four players (either local or online) to run amok. And Bowser’s Fury (which comes included with the game) opens things up more with an open-world design more reminiscent of Super Mario Odyssey (it’s only two-player though).
- Monster Hunter Rise: Boss fights are usually a game’s greatest challenge, but the Monster Hunter series has always placed them at the forefront. There’s crafting, item collection, and RPG-like gear management as well, but the gameplay in this series is as straightforward as the name is, and that’s no different in Rise. While it introduces a few new gameplay mechanics, like the Wirebug, it still primarily focuses on bombastic battles with massive beasts.
- Metroid Dread: The Metroid series often offers something different from Nintendo’s other games. The latest game, Dread, has a deep, interconnected world to explore where you have to progress by finding various power-ups. The gameplay is tight, there are plenty of threats to overcome, and despite being in 2D, the visuals give the impression of a large, intricate world to explore.
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe: Racing has never been as fun or simple as in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. The series’ first HD entry brought beautiful visuals with it, but also fine-tuned the racing mechanics to be enjoyable for players of all skill levels. Creative courses from all over the Mario universe are included here to be raced on and mastered, making this a great game for local couch play. Alternatively, you can take things online and race against players from across the globe.
- Pokémon Sword and Shield: While a lot of RPGs can overwhelm you with complicated mechanics or stories, Pokémon Sword and Shield is good about avoiding that. It’s about catching all the Pokémon you can and defeating the major gym leaders in each area in turn-based combat. The rules are simple to understand and each Pokémon has a unique design that makes collecting and fighting with them fun. There are two different versions of the game—Sword or Shield—each with a slightly different group of Pokémon available to catch (the biggest difference are the legendaries exclusive to each edition, each of which is on the box art of their respective game).
- Ring Fit Adventure: If you had a Wii you might remember Nintendo’s multiple attempts to get players to become more active through gaming. Well, Ring Fit Adventure is yet another try at this but blurs the line between exercise and gaming much better. This is a full-on RPG adventure with a world to explore, plot to experience, and mechanics to learn—you just do everything in the game by exercising. The special ring included with the game can use the Switch’s Joy-Cons to track you running in place, stretching, and even jumping. These are the inputs for the game and mean you can enjoy a new Nintendo adventure all the while getting in a killer workout.
Sony made a concerted effort to corner the triple-AAA single-player space with the PlayStation 4, and that effort has transitioned to the PS5 quite smoothly. These blockbuster games feature spectacular visuals, bombastic setpieces, and some of the best stories in gaming. And thanks to the PS5’s ultra-fast storage and generally improved specs, Sony’s not only been able to release new games but also go back and (confusingly) update some of the PS4 titles to the current gen.
- Returnal: Roguelites are characterized by the player losing most, if not all their progress when they die. Usually, there are upgrades or other unlockables that make players more powerful after each run to keep some form of player progression as you try to beat the game. Well, Returnal does all of that while delivering an interesting story and amazing visuals thanks to the PS5. Enjoy gripping third-person shooter combat while the threat of death keeps you on edge in this bold new game.
- Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart: Dimension-hopping is a great way to get some interesting worlds to explore in a game, and Rift Apart is a great demonstration of that. The cartoony styling of the Ratchet & Clank universe is brought to life here like never before, with a larger selection of weapons than ever before and new platforming gauntlets to complete. The various guns you can use all have creative functions that make blasting through hordes of enemies more fun regardless of which dimension you’re in.
- Marvel’s Spider-Man (and Miles Morales): Few games have captured what it’s like to be a superhero better than Marvel’s Spider-Man. You can complete side quests in the massive open-world or chase after the big bad in the main plot, enjoy a kinetic and easy-to-learn combat system, or traverse the map with web-slinging straight out of the movies. And if this epic adventure isn’t enough for you, the same great gameplay can be found in its spin-off, Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, with a brand-new story. There’s also a remastered version of the original game but that’s exclusively available in the Miles Morales Ultimate Edition.
- Death Stranding: Death Stranding is a game that revels in its own mundanity. It’s a game entirely about delivering packages across a barren wasteland, and that’s a concept it’s very dedicated to. Traversing this land is tough and the more cargo you have the more difficult it becomes. However, the game’s art design, excellent story, and unique online mechanics make it endlessly rewarding to play. And in the new Director’s Cut, you can enjoy upgraded visuals on PS5, additional challenges, and more weapons.
- The Last of Us Part II: The Last of Us is one of the most acclaimed games of all time thanks to its revolutionizing the way games tell stories. And while its sequel can’t promise something so groundbreaking, it still delivers on an excellent narrative with engaging gameplay. Combat is brutal and realistic, the world is detailed and captivating, and the game takes interesting steps to follow up plotlines from the previous game that can be enjoyed by fans new and old. And if you haven’t gotten around to playing the original, then a remaster is available on PS5 right now.
- Final Fantasy VII Remake: Most remakes take pride in not altering the core appeal of the source material by much, but that’s not the direction this game took. Going from a 90’s top-down turn-based RPG to a modern third-person action game was a bold decision, but it definitely paid off. Not only is the gameplay entirely different, but new areas are added to the beautiful game world; the story has been adapted to follow the same path as the original, but still has something new for returning fans.
- Demon’s Souls: If you know FromSoftware, it’s likely from the now-renowned Dark Souls series, Bloodborne, or the upcoming Elden Ring. Well, if you’ve played all the modern stuff, let’s go back to where it all started, remade from the ground up for PS5. Like most FromSofware games, Demon’s Souls largely focuses on highly challenging gameplay and boss fights. Because it’s the first game, there’s definitely a lot of rough spots that the remake didn’t smooth out, but if you’re hungry for more of this gameplay it won’t disappoint—and the gorgeous visuals don’t hurt either.
- Kena: Bridge of Spirits: Most PS5 titles (and even some on PS4) focus on realistic visuals to show off the console’s power, but Kena is a good example of a game doing the opposite. With Pixar-esque characters and animation, Kena is a joyful exploration of cartoonish art bundled with solid action-adventure gameplay. On the gameplay front, things feel similar to other open-world games with plenty of quests and things to see while exploring. But the unique additions—like the horde of creatures that follow you around and do your bidding—give the game a unique tone even if you stripped away the fantastic visuals.
- Ghost of Tsushima: In the realm of open-world adventure games, Ghost of Tsushima stands out as one of the best in the genre. Benefitting from years of refining this formula, this game’s world has plenty to do, see, and fight. The combat is stylistic, quick, and gratifying all taking place in scenic ancient Japan for plenty of cool backdrops. It even received a Director’s Cut with improved performance and visuals for PS5.
The Series X and Series S are different from a technical perspective but still share much of the same library. Regardless of which console you have, Microsoft’s exclusives are sure to offer hundreds of hours of enjoyment both online and off. Out of the big three, Microsoft places the most emphasis on online multiplayer, but thanks to some more recent studio acquisitions it’s not slacking in the singleplayer as much anymore.
On top of this, all of Microsoft’s exclusives are available through Xbox Game Pass—a monthly subscription that can be combined with Xbox Gold (Microsoft’s service for online gaming) for $14.99/mo.
- Forza Horizon 4: Racing games always manage to showcase a console’s power excellently, from the detail put into the cars to the scenic routes you drive along. Forza Horizon 4 has plenty of both—entirely set in Britain, there are plenty of natural wonders to see while driving at top speed down curvy country roads. Horizon’s approach to open-world racing design is unmatched and delivers plenty of fun regardless if you’re playing alone or with friends. Forza Horizon 5 is also right around the corner and will be set in Mexico.
- Halo: The Master Chief Collection: While Halo Infinite’s multiplayer may be free, the previous games still have a lot to offer. Featuring six different Halo games, all with their own single-player campaign (which can be played in online co-op) and competitive online modes, there’s plenty to see here that differs wildly from the upcoming Infinite. These are some of the most iconic first-person shooters of all time, and they still hold up well today.
- Psychonauts 2: The original Psychonauts is a unique 3D platformer that places more of a focus on storytelling and atmosphere than most other titles in the genre. The sequel is finally here to one-up it in every way and shows you some of the most imaginative settings you’ve ever seen in a game. Every major level takes place inside of a character’s mind, so all the obstacles and set-dressing are inspired by that character’s personality. It’s an ingenious excuse to have some wacky levels, and the comedy manages to hit constantly as well for both kids and adults. And don’t worry if you haven’t played the first—Psychonauts 2 will ease you into both the gameplay and story.
- Microsoft Flight Simulator: Flight simulators may not be the most exciting thing in the world, but Microsoft Flight Simulator is a different beast. Featuring an entire to-scale map of the Earth with algorithmically generated buildings and handmade monuments, the game does a commendable job of recapturing the beauty of the Earth. Because the map is to-scale, flights take how long they would in real life (don’t worry, there’s also fast travel) and even the weather mimics what those places would be experiencing at that time. The world is beautiful and planes absurdly realistic, so if you want a taste of flight this is certainly your best bet. And skip the keyboard and mouse—we recommend playing it with a joystick or yoke.
- Ori and the Will of the Wisps: Ori and the Blind Forest captured the hearts of many thanks to its fluid platforming and emotional story, both of which Will of the Wisps improves upon. The gameplay is silky smooth with unlockable abilities opening up new parts of the map to you in a satisfying manner. The story is kept simple but still manages to tug on your heartstrings regardless. And as for presentation, Ori and the Will of the Wisps has some of the most colorful and detailed levels you’ll ever see in a 2D game, easily building up an entire world from this one plane.
- Gears 5: Halo may be bigger, but Gears of War is still one of Microsoft’s flagship series, and the newest entry deserves a mention. While the story of saving the Earth from aliens is basic, the gritty third-person shooter gameplay is deserving of the popularity. With both an excellent single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode that pits you against other players (or forces you to work together), you’ll spend plenty of hours in this one.
- Sea of Thieves: Good pirate games are few and far between, but still, no other has captured the tone better than Sea of Thieves. While the cartoony visuals may seem childish at first, they open the door to a beautiful ocean with plenty of islands ripe for plundering. Complete quests, find treasure, or plunder goods from other players all with a crew of up to four players.
- Deep Rock Galactic: To continue the trend of online multiplayer games with unique visuals, Deep Rock Galactic sees you and up to three other players taking control of space dwarves who need to mine asteroid crystals. However, it’s never that easy, and these space rocks and filled to the brim with enemies to fight and stress over. Every quest is a new adventure, and with a good team of friends at your side, you’re sure to have an amazing time.